Nietzsche continues to do Ellison proud with Ayr victory

Brian Ellison was delighted to see Nietzsche bag his biggest victory over fences to date with battling performance in the Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase at Ayr.

Winner of the 2018 Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham, the eight-year-old had been running consistently well in competitive handicap chases all season, most recently finishing eighth in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Ridden by Johnny Burke, Nietzsche was a 6-1 shot for the Listed feature on the opening day of the Scottish Grand National meeting – and after taking over from Voix Du Reve on the run-in, had just enough in reserve to repel 15-8 favourite Not That Fuisse by a neck.

“He’s a star,” said Ellison.

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“He’s won four races on the Flat, he’s won a Greatwood Hurdle and was third in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham (in 2017). He probably would have won that day if he didn’t hit the front too early.

“He ran at the Festival last time and was third at Cheltenham before that. He’s a good horse.

“Johnny gave him a good ride. He wanted to get there after the last and that’s what he did.”

While out of luck with Not That Fuisse, Harry Skelton extended his lead in the race to be crowned champion jockey to four courtesy of a first- and last-race double.

The rider teamed up with brother Dan to win both the Tennent’s Lager Novices’ Hurdle with 4-9 favourite Stepney Causeway, and the Book Your Staycation At Western House Hotel Handicap Hurdle with 11-2 chance I’d Better Go Now.

Stepney Causeway was winning his fourth successive race over obstacles when scoring by 19 lengths in the opener, but could be set for a return to the Flat.

His trainer said: “He’s a remarkable horse, to be honest. He’s just improving rapidly and it was great to see him do it like that.

“On his first run for us we ran him in soft ground and right-handed and it turned out that’s everything he doesn’t want. We’ve since run him left-handed on better ground and he’s won four.

“He’ll have an entry in the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock and he’s also entered in the Chester Cup. He won’t get in the Cup, I don’t think, but he could get in the consolation race (Chester Plate).

“The horse in the last (I’d Better Go Now) is very good fresh and Harry gave him a brilliant ride.”

The brace took Harry Skelton to 143 winners for the season, with reigning champion Brian Hughes on 139 after drawing a blank.

His brother added: “Harry is four clear, but I keep saying it, it’s not enough!”

Both jockeys are in action at Bangor on Saturday before returning to Ayr for Sunday’s Coral Scottish Grand National.

Harry Skelton continues to gather title momentum

Harry Skelton drew stumps with a three-winner advantage over Brian Hughes in their electric title-race battle after both enjoyed victories at Cheltenham on Wednesday.

Skelton teamed up with brother Dan for the victories of Faivoir and Proschema, while reigning champion Hughes posted a single success on Domaine De L’Isle.

While Skelton can rely on the full support of his sibling to provide his mounts in the remaining nine days, Hughes will cast his net far and wide, as he did for his latest scorer, who is trained near Swindon by Sean Curran.

Skelton said: “Harry is three clear, but the worst hope is false hope, and there’s no point thinking you have won.

Dan and Harry Skelton are enjoying an excellent run of form
Dan and Harry Skelton are enjoying an excellent run of form (David Davies/PA)

“Yesterday was a big day for Harry (rode three winners at Southwell), especially after we drew a blank on Monday, when I thought we had some serious chances.

“But Harry will have a ride in every race from now until the end of the season. While it’s no big deal for Harry to have a double at Stratford or Warwick, Brian is used to riding six or seven every day, and he and his team will get winners.”

The Skelton team first struck gold with Faivoir (4-6 favourite), who registered his fifth victory of the campaign in the Join Racing TV Now Novices’ Hurdle.

“This horse has been on the go since the first Cheltenham meeting in October and was left in front a long way out, which made it more difficult,” said his trainer.

“I had it in mind to go chasing with him straight away, but now we just might have a rethink.

“We would have gone straight in over two and a half miles, but the way he races he is going to be versatile distance-wise.”

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Little over an hour late the Skeltons doubled up with Proschema in the Kingston Stud Handicap Hurdle.

The 7-2 joint-favourite powered to the front approaching the final flight and pulled six and a half lengths clear of Winds Of Fire.

Skelton added: “The ground was way too soft for him when he ran in the Greatwood Hurdle here in November.

“Today was the first time we’d stretched him out in trip, and it’s all come together, although it’s taken a while for it to happen.

“The ground is vitally important and we will now go for a race over two miles and six furlongs at Haydock on Swinton Hurdle day.”

Hughes might have had luck on his side on Domaine De L’Isle in the Weatherite Handicap Chase, as The Mighty Don was showing no signs of stopping when hitting the second-last fence.

That error caused jockey James Davies to defy gravity by toppling onto Sam Twiston-Davies on Coo Star Sivola, who courteously helped him remain the plate.

As the Sean Curran-trained Domaine De L’Isle went on to score by a length and a half, Davies managed to complete the course on The Mighty Don, but in fifth place.

Hughes, conceding the emphasis was with Skelton, said: “James’ horse drifted onto my path and then back into Sam, who saved the day.

“I rode this horse two years ago at Newcastle and won on him at Ascot. He then lost his form, but Sean’s got him back with a wind job.”

On the title race, he added: “Winners round here are hard to find for northern jockeys.

“The advantage is with Harry, but it’s not over yet.”

Manofthemountain (right) in winning action at Bangor
Manofthemountain (right) in winning action at Bangor (David Davies/PA)

Manofthemountain is a name to conjure with through the summer and next autumn following his smooth-as-silk delivery in the Ballymore Silver Trophy Limited Handicap Chase.

The Emma Lavelle-trained gelding travelled like a dream for Tom Bellamy and readily put the race to bed between the final two fences, scoring by four and a half lengths and a length and a half from Magic Saint and Romain De Senam.

Sporting the Limato colours of Paul Jacobs, the 8-1 winner could have the Paddy Power Gold Cup back here in November as a major objective.

Lavelle explained: “He’d had a break going into his previous race at Kempton and just took a blow at the second-last. The ground is probably the key to him, and I’m happy that we’ve found a distance (two and a half miles) where he should be.

“Paul is one of racing’s greatest enthusiasts and likes to plot a route. The Summer Plate at Market Rasen is an option, but the big target is to come back here in the autumn (for the Paddy Power).”

Oliver Sherwood was among the winners
Oliver Sherwood was among the winners (Simon Cooper/PA)

Oliver Sherwood attributed the addition of blinkers to Jersey Bean’s game front-running success under Brendan Powell in the Arkells Brewery Nicholson Holman Novices’ Handicap Chase.

After the 4-1 chance scored by six and a half lengths from Accordingtogino, Sherwood said: “He loved that ground but will now have a holiday.

“I’ve got to thank Henrietta Knight because his jumping was average and after a week’s school with her she suggested blinkers.

“He will get further, and we should have some fun with him next year.”

Local trainer Fergal O’Brien got to within two of the century mark for the season, while conditional Liam Harrison had his claim cut to 5lb courtesy of Ask Dillon’s triumph in the Jockey Club Cheltenham And SW Syndicate Handicap Hurdle.

Harrison said: “A few of them going a good gallop suited us, and my horse travelled on that decent ground. He’s done plenty of schooling over fences, which is the direction he’ll be heading next season.”

The Nicky Henderson-trained Hooper successfully stepped into handicap company to take the Cheltenham Pony Racing Authority Graduates Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle under Ben Ffrench Davis.

My Drogo stars in Mersey Novices’ Hurdle

My Drogo took his winning run to four with a most convincing performance in the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.

Connections of the Dan Skelton-trained six-year-old decided to miss Cheltenham and it proved a wise move, with My Drogo powering home under Harry Skelton.

Pulling away in the closing stages, the 5-4 favourite crossed the line nine and a half lengths clear of Minella Drama, ridden by Skelton’s title rival Brian Hughes. Guard Your Dreams was half a length away in third. The first three were well ahead of Ballyadam in fourth.

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My Drogo was held up towards the rear in the early stages as Llandinabo Lad made the running from Striking A Pose.

There was drama at the fourth-last flight, just as the race was warming up, with Lucky One and Striking A Pose both coming down.

Skelton managed to miss all that as he started to ask My Drogo for an effort – and it was plain sailing from there as the son of Milan opened his Grade One account in some style.

Both Harry Cobden and Jonjo O’Neill junior were thankfully on their feet after the spill, but Cobden was subsequently stood down for the day, meaning he missed the ride on Give Me A Copper in the Grand National.

Of the exciting winner, Dan Skelton said: “It’s a little bit of a relief. I felt coming here it was nearly his race to lose given the prep he’d had, missing Cheltenham – it’s such an advantage here.

Harry Skelton celebrates with My Drogo
Harry Skelton celebrates with My Drogo (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“We’d always planned to come straight here. To give away a penalty at Kelso, and that form has stood up, gave an indication of what was possible.

“It’s very exciting to be involved with a horse like him, he’s got it all. The plan was always to go chasing next year, despite the lure of better hurdles. Given his breeding, size and the way he jumps it’s now or never if we want to make him a top-class chaser.

“For a moment today I was worried we’d run him in the wrong race given how well he was going, but I always felt he’d get two and a half miles.

“We want to make him a staying chaser – next year he’ll start over shorter, but ultimately he’ll be a staying chaser.”

He added: “He’s going 100 per cent over fences. We’ll start him off over two miles in the autumn somewhere and build up in trip.

“I don’t think we’ll go further than two and a half miles next year. Then ultimately plot a career this time next year for him because his novice chase year is important. We’ve got to get through that prosperously and then look at the future.

“He’s a very exciting horse.”

Protektorat strikes early at Aintree for Skelton

Protektorat gave title-chasing jockey Harry Skelton a flying start to the three-day Grand National meeting by winning the Grade One SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree.

Skelton delivered the six-year-old, trained by his brother Dan, with a well-timed challenge to lead on the run-in and land the spoils from The Shunter – with Hitman a close third.

Hitman was always prominent, with Fusil Raffles making the running until he was pulled up after making a bad mistake down the far side.

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His exit left Hitman in front. But when it came to the business end of the two-and-a-half mile contest, he was strongly challenged first by The Shunter and then by Protektorat (17-2). The latter went on to win by three and three-quarter lengths.

The winning rider said: “He was very good today. It’s a great way to start the meeting.

“Dan has just said he’s never thought about a horse as much as he has about Protektorat this year. He has a hell of a lot of ability, but hasn’t been the easiest with his mind and wind issues.

“The last day at Kelso, it just didn’t happen for him, but he’s undergone a wind operation since then and has come right today.”

His delighted trainer added: “That was absolutely brilliant. Harry gave him a great ride.

“I didn’t expect that to happen. I said to the owners, who also had Hitman in the race, that today was a short-term plan to get a long-term result next year.

Sir Alex Ferguson watches on as Protektorat takes the spoils at Aintree
Sir Alex Ferguson watches on as Protektorat takes the spoils at Aintree (Tim Goode/PA)

“I thought he’d run creditably, but I didn’t expect him to win. It’s a long way back from Kelso, where he was beaten after the second jump – he was jumping right-handed and didn’t want to be there.

“We mixed things up today – taking the hood off, putting the tongue-tie on and redoing his palate.

“That’s him done for the season now. I was thinking of starting him off back here in the Old Roan, but if the ground is right, maybe we’ll go straight to Wetherby for the Charlie Hall.”

Protektorat is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, and Harry Skelton said: “It’s brilliant to have owners back. They’ve been so patient through this difficult period, but they’ve stuck by us and hopefully they’re here to stay now.”

Skelton matches pace with Hughes in title race

Harry Skelton is favourite with the bookmakers to claim his maiden jockeys’ title after remaining just three winners behind defending champion Brian Hughes thanks to his double at Warwick.

While Hughes was adding two winners to his tally up at Newcastle, Skelton did likewise at his local track for his brother Dan’s Warwickshire stable on King D’argent and Stylish Dancer.

Dan Skelton nonetheless pointed out that Hughes is still in front – albeit by only 129 to 126, as the title race approaches its final month –  and the champion has several of the best yards in the north to call on.

He said: “Harry is looking at it as such a thrill, because he’s always wanted to be the champion jockey, and nothing would give me greater pleasure than getting him over the line.

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“Harry has gone favourite with the bookies, but Brian has the lead – and if it all stops tomorrow he has won.

“We need good competition, and the two Harrys and Brian are giving us that in a classic ‘North’ (Brian) versus ‘Middle England’ (Harry) and the ‘South’ (Harry Cobden) battle that looks like it could go down to the wire.

“But we also need to remember that challenging is the first part of the equation – and the second is winning.

“You can’t do the second without embracing the first- but Brian has the initiative, and it’s going to be tight.”

Dan Skelton hopes fences will continue to prove the making of Stylish Dancer after the 5-4 favourite’s near eight-length victory in the Watch On Racing TV Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Chase.

“She’s very good at her fences and sets herself right,” he said.

“She just managed to scrape home in a handicap hurdle, but was weak and has become stronger.

“I won’t press the button too soon with her, and I’m looking at a valuable three-and-a-quarter-mile mares’ chase at Cheltenham next month.”

After King d’Argent’s eight-and-a-half-length win from Benatar as the 11-8 favourite in the Bet At Handicap Chase, Skelton added: “I’m gobsmacked at how much he’s improved over a fence.

“It just shows you how those juveniles can get lost in the wilderness for a year, but now he’s a credit to himself.

“He’s back better than ever, and it’s 50/50 whether we go for a Listed handicap at Ayr.”

Looking forward to some of his yard’s big names heading for valuable targets this spring, the Alcester handler said: “We’ll have a full team for Aintree – including novice chasers Shan Blue and Protectorate, novice hurdlers Third Time Lucki and My Drogo and Blaklion in the National.

“Nube Negra will head for the Celebration Chase at Sandown, while Allmankind might stretch out in trip in a novice chase at Ayr.”

Allmankind will head to Ayr

Allmankind is set to head to Ayr for the Jordan Electrics Ltd Future Champion Novices’ Chase over two and a half miles.

Dan Skelton has decided to step the five-year-old up in trip, following his first defeat over fences in the Arkle at Cheltenham.

Hassled for the lead throughout by Captain Guinness, his effort had petered out by the home straight as Shishkin breezed to an impressive win.

“I think we got put in our place quite unanimously by Shishkin, so I’m going to try him up in trip actually,” Skelton told Racing TV.

“I think we might even go to Ayr, over two and a half, and it gives him a little longer (to get over Cheltenham). He did put everything into that race.

“We’re not afraid to run him. He’s only a novice once, and that is why we’ll get him out once more.”

Skelton endured a frustrating Cheltenham Festival, with several horses placed and none getting closer than Nube Negra in the Champion Chase.

“Nube Negra will go for the Celebration Chase at Sandown,” said the Warwickshire trainer.

“At the moment that is where he’s going, touch wood.”

Another to claim the silver medal at Prestbury Park was stablemate Langer Dan in the Martin Pipe, just five days after he had won the Imperial Cup, but Skelton feels he may have faced a stiff task in any case against the winner Galopin Des Champs.

“Langer Dan won’t run again (this season). He ran only five days later, and you’ve got to congratulate him on a good end of his season,” said Skelton.

“He bumped into one. I think we’ll be seeing that one in some Grade Ones – he looks very good.”

Harry Skelton fires Hereford four-timer to narrow title gap

Harry Skelton kept up his title chase with a four-timer at Hereford on Wednesday.

Skelton started the day nine winners behind Brian Hughes and four in front of third-placed Harry Cobden, and he was quick off the mark aboard Real Stone in the opening Central Roofing Novices’ Hurdle.

Trained by his brother Dan, Skelton is unlikely to enjoy an many easier winners as the 1-10 favourite dismissed his two rivals without coming out of second gear, cantering home 91 lengths clear of Harlow, with Rogue Male a further nine lengths back in third.

Skelton said: “Although the ground was a bit dead on top, it was fine. It’s always great to get a winner here at Hereford – it’s been a lucky course for me and that’s the perfect way to start the day.”

Skelton returns to the winner's enclosure aboard Ambassador
Skelton returns to the winner’s enclosure aboard Ambassador (PA)

The Skelton team soon made it a double as another favourite, 2-1 chance Ambassador, proved a length too good for Kamaxos in the Central Roofing Juvenile Maiden Hurdle.

Unplaced in five runs on the Flat for Richard Fahey, Ambassador was making it fourth time lucky over obstacles for current connections after undergoing wind surgery since his last start.

The winning rider said: “The wind operation has helped him. He was quite keen and fresh, but he enjoyed the track and better ground.

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“He’s a proper Flat horse – strong and not over big – and he loved the going.”

Skelton with his third winner, Global Harmony
Skelton with his third winner, Global Harmony (PA)

Global Harmony then made it a hat-trick for the Skeltons in the Central Roofing Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.

The 7-4 shot was making her handicap debut and despite a mistake at the last, she kept on for a two-and-three-quarter-length verdict.

Stylish Dancer (13-2) then rounded off a fabulous day with victory in the closing Central Roofing Handicap Hurdle.

With Hughes out of luck at Haydock and Cobden failing to strike at Hereford, Skelton was thrilled to have strengthened his championship position.

He added: “I’m delighted to have narrowed the gap with Brian – it’s been a great afternoon. The horses are just in such great form generally, and happily they all seem to be enjoying the ground.”

James Bowen also got in on the riding act, initiating a double aboard To Be Sure (11-4) in the Central Roofing Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Evan Williams’ charge kept finding a bit extra after jumping the last to reel in the Skelton’s 2-1 favourite Headfullofdreams and win by half a length.

Bowen said: “It took a while for my lad to warm to his task as he wasn’t letting himself down in the early stages and the ground is quick out there.

“Overall he jumped really well and I would like to thank Evan for the ride – he’s been good to me.

“I feel like I’m riding well at the moment and I hope I can keep the strike-rate up.”

James Bowen following his first win of the afternoon
James Bowen following his first win of the afternoon (PA)

Bowen then added to his tally aboard the Toby Lawes-trained Pottlereaghexpress (10-11 favourite) in the Central Roofing Mares’ Handicap Chase.

Lawes, who was also on the mark with Kap Auteuil at Market Rasen, said: “Plan A was to get her head in front after a few near-misses and that’s been achieved.

“She’s a bonny little filly, well put together and I think she’s only once ever been out of the frame.

“I’m pleased for James and the general aim is to build with our team, which includes a number of young horses with bags of potential.”

Beau Haze sprang a 20-1 shock for trainer Philip Dando and jockey Conor Ring in the Central Roofing Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

‘We’ve got to raise our game – big time’

Harry Fry warns British National Hunt racing needs to substantially “raise our game” if it is to compete with its Irish counterparts.

British-trained runners won just five of the 28 races across the four-day Cheltenham Festival, with Nicky Henderson’s Grade One-winning duo Shishkin and Chantry House providing the highlights for the home team.

Fry fielded four runners at the Festival – including the well-fancied Metier, who beat just one home in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which was won in spectacular fashion by Willie Mullins’ Appreciate It.

While full of respect for the achievements of the Irish runners, Fry thinks there are plenty of areas requiring swift attention if British trainers are to mount more of a challenge next year.

He said: “They’re doing everything better than we are, quite simply. We have to congratulate them on a fantastic week, and aspire to the heights they’ve hit.

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“We’ve got to raise our game – big time.

“There’s going to be lots of thought and conversations going on. We’ve already started that, from recruiting the right horses to getting the right owners involved. It’s everything – it’s the race planning, the team at home, the staff that work with the horses.

“There’ll be a lot of British-based trainers taking a hard look at themselves and working out where we can raise our game – because we need to, or we’ve going to get left behind quickly.

“We’ve got big owners investing in Irish racing, because there is some sort of return, and there isn’t here. It’s hard to justify to owners when you’re running around for £3,000 in a race.

“I won the Grade One Tolworth, and I didn’t even win £20,000 for winning a Grade One.”

Charlie Longsdon, who had five Festival runners, believes better prize money in Ireland is key to the strong performance of the raiding party.

He said: “They’ve got better horses than we have. Prize money is the thing.

“We didn’t quite get it right in the handicaps – but their prize money is the main reason their horses are going so well, I think.”

Dan Skelton concedes the Irish horses are superior, but also feels it is time to review the National Hunt system in Britain.

The handler saddled 13 runners at the meeting, hitting the bar on multiple occasions, most notably with Nube Negra – who just failed to catch Put The Kettle On in the Champion Chase – and Langer Dan in the closing Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.

He told ITV Racing: “They’re just better at the moment – it’s as simple as that.

“There is time now for a good look at everything. The whole British system needs a good look, and we need to come out with a plan to make sure we can compete going forward.

“We have to become better competitors – especially at that meeting – and this was the catalyst for it.

“I think you’ll see big changes because of it.”

Oscar puts up another winning performance at Uttoxeter

Wilde About Oscar claimed a fourth victory over hurdles when taking the Burton Union Handicap Hurdle at Uttoxeter for Dan and Harry Skelton.

The six-year-old won on his hurdles debut at the track in October and was victorious again at Aintree before stepping up to Graded calibre when contesting Newbury’s Challow Novices’ Hurdle in late December.

A mistake at the seventh hurdle put paid to that plan as the gelding was pulled up, but a subsequent run at Exeter did produce Listed honours and the son of Oscar looked in fine fettle once again when winning by three-quarters of a length as the 9-5 favourite at the Midlands track.

“He’s a really honest little horse,” Harry Skelton said.

“His jumping has just got better and better with each run and he’s really progressed.

“He can definitely progress even further next season.”

Ask Me Early was a winner for Harry Fry
Ask Me Early was a winner for Harry Fry (Mike Egerton/PA)

Ask Me Early cruised to a comfortable victory in the three-mile 1834 Novices’ Handicap Chase after trainer Harry Fry vetoed a previously mooted run in the Midlands National itself.

The grey won on his debut over fences at Chepstow and followed up with a second victory at the same track in January, but a subsequent run at Sandown resulted in disappointment as the gelding was pulled up when never really travelling.

That performance was clearly forgotten at Uttoxeter as the seven-year-old ran with his previous zest and jumped fluently under Sean Bowen to record a two-and-a-quarter-length triumph.

“He’s been so progressive in his first two starts over fences, from the word go at Sandown he was never travelling or jumping with the same enthusiasm,” Fry explained.

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“We got him home and he was very sore through his back and we diagnosed kissing spines, which we’ve treated.

“He roared right back to form today, he’s a real out-and-out galloper and jumps for fun.

“Truth be told, I was training him for the Midlands National today, but when we flopped at Sandown I thought I couldn’t aim that high.

“This is a lovely race for him and it’s great to see him bounce back to form, he’ll be a lovely second-season chaser to look forward to next season.”

Saint Dalina on her way to victory
Saint Dalina on her way to victory (Mike Egerton/PA)

Saint Dalina followed up a course-and-distance victory in December with another Uttoxeter success when taking the Marstons Brewery Handicap Hurdle for Charlie Longsdon and Tom Buckley.

Travelling fluently throughout, the mare was only challenged by Tim Vaughan’s Tight Call after clearing the final obstacle, but was able to hold on as the post approached to prevail by a neck.

“I’ve ridden her a few times and I really like her attitude,” Buckley said.

“She’s an out-and-out galloper and I can’t wait until she goes over fences – she’ll be even better then.

“To be fair to her, coming here today, the ground’s a bit quick for her, but she’s kept her head down, the cheekpieces have worked and she’s done it nicely.”

Tom Buckley after his win aboard Saint Dalina
Tom Buckley after his win aboard Saint Dalina (Mike Egerton/PA)

“She’s tough, she’s been a massive improver this season,” Longsdon said.

“I sort of aimed at this race thinking it was a lady riders’ race but obviously it got changed, but she’s gone and done it nicely.

“It was hard work, but she’s done a good job.”

Rosmuc Relay was victorious at Uttoxeter
Rosmuc Relay was victorious at Uttoxeter (Mike Egerton/PA)

Rosmuc Relay triumphed on his first run for Tom Lacey when a five-length winner of the 61 Deep Handicap Chase.

The nine-year-old was previously trained by Kim Bailey before switching stables earlier in the month, a move that has seemingly succeeded in revitalising the gelding.

A 16-1 chance, Rosmuc Relay took up the lead with a fence remaining and was able to shake off Richard Hobson’s Discko Des Plages to prevail.

“It’s freshened him up a bit,” said jockey Stan Sheppard.

“With how the race panned out, I wanted to make the running, but I was always happy just sitting where I was travelling.”

The Edgar Wallace was ridden by David Bass
The Edgar Wallace was ridden by David Bass (Mike Egerton/PA)

The Edgar Wallace (15-8) went one better than his recent runner-up spot when taking the DE14 Novices’ Hurdle by two lengths.

Trained by Kim Bailey and ridden by David Bass, the six-year-old took an early lead and made all of the running, holding on to prevail by two lengths despite the field closing in on him after the final turn.

Fergal O’Brien’s Onagatheringstorm finished second, with £620,000 purchase Interconnected a further length and a quarter behind in third.

“I knew from experience that round here on the hurdles course it was tight enough,” Bass said of his ride.

“I thought if I could wind him up and inject a bit of pace until he was there then he might get away from them.

“He is a good horse, he is, some of his bumper form is very good. There’s a lot to look forward to.”

Legendary Rhythm (right) at Uttoxeter
Legendary Rhythm (right) at Uttoxeter (Mike Egerton/PA)

Legendary Rhythm (17-2) lost her maiden tag when taking the Horninglow Mares’ Handicap Hurdle by a length and a half for trainer Tom Symonds.

Anthony Honeyball’s Kilbeg King then took the concluding two-mile Marstons Pedigree Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race under Aidan Coleman by an impressive seven and a half lengths.

“It was a nice performance,” Coleman said.

“Kilbeg King travelled nicely the whole way and picked up well when I asked him to.

“I sat on him a couple of weeks ago so I knew he was quite nice and the race worked out well. “

Marracudja completes Kempton walkover

Marracudja secured the easiest £15,640 of his life in the opening Virgin Bet Silver Bowl Handicap Chase at Kempton.

The extended two-and-a-half-mile heat was conceived as a consolation race for those balloted out of Cheltenham handicaps, but a reduced number of entries at this year’s Festival meant only Marracudja was eliminated at the meeting.

Dan Skelton’s 10-year-old was therefore the horse to qualify for the race, with Bridget Andrews getting the leg up for his required canter down the course.

Marracudja had only to walk to the furlong marker and canter back past the winning post to take home the first prize.

Andrews said: “I’ve only ever once before been involved in a walkover, which was at Warwick, and it’s a strange situation when you go to the furlong marker and canter back over the line – especially because this horse was very full of himself and he’s not the easiest.”

Kempton clerk of the course Barney Clifford added: “Since I started clerking here in 1999, this is only the second walkover. The first was in 2002 – it was a chase on the October Sunday meeting brought about by fast ground.”

Marracudja had not secured a first prize since December 2019, when he was an impressive winner of the Castleford Chase at Wetherby, before going on to finish third in the Grade One Clarence House Chase a month later.

Shishkin out to prove another Arkle star for Henderson

Shishkin is all the rage to become the latest Nicky Henderson-trained star to claim victory in the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy.

First successful with Remittance Man in 1991, the Seven Barrows handler has now racked up a record six victories in the prestigious two-mile novice chase on the opening day of the Festival.

Sprinter Sacre went on to establish himself as one of the greatest chasers of the modern era following a runaway Arkle success in 2012, while Altior weaved a similar path to superstardom after striking Arkle gold in 2017.

Like Altior, Shishkin is out to double his Festival tally following victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – and having barely put a foot wrong in three starts over fences, the seven-year-old is long odds-on to enhance his already huge reputation.

“Everybody thinks these races are exciting, but I’m not sure we do!” said Henderson.

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“There’s a lot at stake, and we have to sit and suffer.

“Our first Arkle winner was Remittance Man, who was a spectacular jumper. Sprinter Sacre was probably the most flamboyant of them all – and Altior was pretty deadly.

“This fellow has just been very good. I think Shishkin’s performance in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle was pretty good, because he was literally taken into the car park at the second-last, and to get back up and win was a pretty solid performance.

“He probably hasn’t had a lot of opposition over fences, but he’s been very clinical and very accurate and has done it well every time.

“He comes in with 10 ticks for all three runs, to be honest with you, even if he didn’t have to beat anything very sensational.

“He is in good form and has proven that he’s top-class – and he’s had a good run-in.”

Following the enforced withdrawal of the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene because of injury, the biggest threat to Shishkin appears to be the Dan Skelton-trained Allmankind.

Allmankind on his way to winning the Kingmaker Novices' Chase at Warwick
Allmankind on his way to winning the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

A tearaway juvenile hurdler last season, the five-year-old has appeared more amenable since having his attentions switched to the larger obstacles, which has enabled him to win each of his three starts.

Skelton said: “I’m really happy with him and was really happy with his prep run in the Kingmaker at Warwick – it did its job.

“He’s fresh and well and ready to go, so we’re looking forward to it.”

In Energumene’s absence, Mullins relies on Franco De Port to provide him with a fifth Arkle success. He was 10 lengths behind his stablemate when runner-up in last month’s Irish Arkle at Leopardstown.

Captain Guinness (De Bromhead), Eldorado Allen (Colin Tizzard) and Numitor (Heather Main) complete the sextet.

Roksana raring to go in bid to reclaim Mares’ Hurdle crown

Dan Skelton is convinced he has made the right decision in running Roksana in the Close Brothers’ Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Skelton could have switched his talented nine-year-old to Thursday’s Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, but he resisted the temptation even after the news that leading fancy Thyme Hill will not run.

Roksana bids to win the Mares’ Hurdle for a second time after scoring in 2019, when she benefited from the final-flight fall of Benie Des Dieux.

Since then she has proved she can be competitive against geldings at the highest level, only being beaten two lengths when third to Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December.

“We were always going for the Mares’ Hurdle really. I just confirmed her for the Stayers’ to satisfy myself that we were making the right decision and to give us a little bit longer to make sure that we were right after Thyme Hill came out,” said the Alcester handler.

“We just wanted to make sure we were happy, and we are. She’s in great form at home and brings some very strong form into the race.

“She’s obviously coming back in trip as she’s done her racing at three miles this year. She stays very strongly.

“I don’t think there’s any need to talk about whether she has better form than Concertista or not. We’ll find out on Tuesday.

Concertista, trained by Willie Mullins, took the Grade Two mares’ novice hurdle at last year’s Festival and has won both her starts this season. Mullins is also represented by Great White Shark and My Sister Sarah.

Minella Melody has yet to get the better of Concertista, but connections of the Henry de Bromhead-trained seven-year-old expect her to run well.

“I can’t get over her price, to be honest. It’s hard to see her beating Concertista, who has beaten her twice, but I think she’s the forgotten mare of the race,” said Peter Molony, racing manager to owner Kenny Alexander.

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“Black Tears is half her odds. The last day we ran against her we were giving her 6lb and beat her six lengths, so I’m not sure she’s a much shorter price than Minella.

“Hopefully she can do the talking on the day and run a good race.”

Nicky Henderson reverts to hurdles with Dame De Compagnie, after a brief spell chasing.

“She won the two-runner race at Ayr and we were a bit short of opportunities then and I had to throw her into a Grade One, which was a bit of a baptism of fire really and it was just a bit too much of her,” said the Seven Barrows handler.

“She’s in very good form and the fall (in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase) did her no harm. I don’t see why she shouldn’t come back over hurdles and two and a half is her trip, as she showed in the Coral Cup last year.

“She’s not ready for the Mares’ Chase as yet, especially after the incident at Sandown. We can always go back over fences next year.”

Dame De Compagnie was victorious at the Festival 12 months ago
Dame De Compagnie was victorious at the Festival 12 months ago (Simon Cooper/PA)

Henderson said of his other runner, Floressa: “She has been running good races at two miles in graded company and we’ve always felt two and a half would suit her.”

Aye Right bids to land a deserve success in the Ultima Handicap Chase after going close in three decent prizes this term.

Harriet Graham’s eight-year-old has finished second in the Ladbrokes Trophy and Sky Bet Chase, and third in the Charlie Hill Chase.

With his regular rider Callum Bewley suspended, Richard Johnson takes the mount.

“He’s a lovely ride to pick up, but obviously it’s a great shame for Callum he’s suspended and can’t ride him,” said Johnson.

“His run in the Ladbrokes Trophy behind Cloth Cap, the way he won at Kelso the other day that form looks very solid and his run at Doncaster a few weeks ago was good.

Aye Right (right) ran a cracker behind Grand National favourite Cloth Cap at Newbury
Aye Right (right) ran a cracker behind Grand National favourite Cloth Cap at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Obviously he’s higher in the weights now, but that is because his form is so good and he’s one of the class horses in the Ultima. He goes there with a really strong chance in a very competitive race.

David Bass is looking forward to continuing his association with the Kim Bailey-trained Happygolucky after their victory in a novice chase at Cheltenham in December.

“I think he’s got a great profile for the race. I’ve always really liked him and he’s a true professional,” said Bass.

“He’s a good traveller, he jumps well and while it’s his first handicap chase, I’m not concerned about that as he has a great temperament.

“He ran a very good race in the Martin Pipe last year and was fourth, but he’s always been crying out for three miles. We stepped him up last time and he won at Cheltenham. He’s so straightforward and handles any type of ground.”

Happygolucky goes for glory in the Ultima Handicap
Happygolucky goes for glory in the Ultima Handicap (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Skelton believes Alnadam will be suited by going up in trip after winning over an extended two and a half miles at Sandown.

“He’s a progressive novice and I think the step up to three miles is a real positive,” said the Alcester trainer.

“I’m looking forward to getting him out there, to be honest with you. It’s a massive step up for him, but he deserves to have a pop.”

Skelton expects Cabot Cliffs to run a decent race in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, having won his last two races at Warwick in good style.

“He’s a very tough an consistent horse,” he said.

“This is a totally different type of race to what he’s been running in, but some juveniles you suspect might not give their running – it’s a hard season for them.

“One thing with Cabot Cliffs is, he’s a very tough horse.”

Next Destination is a leading player in the National Hunt Chase
Next Destination is a leading player in the National Hunt Chase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Paul Nicholls sprang a minor surprise at the weekend when opting to run Next Destination in the San Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase rather than the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase on Wednesday.

He told Betfair: “I spent a long time on the phone on Saturday night with his owner Malcolm Denmark weighing up all the options before we decided to go for the National Hunt Chase rather than the Brown Advisory a day later.

“Three miles on nearly good ground would not be ideal for Next Destination who is a stout stayer, so with Royale Pagaille heading for the Gold Cup it made sense to go for the race that suited us best on what is likely to be the slowest ground of the week.”

The same owner/trainer combination also run Soldier Of Love.

“Malcolm has a useful second contender in Soldier of Love who made giant strides in the summer and has enjoyed a nice little holiday while waiting for ground conditions to come in his favour,” Nicholls added.

Langer Dan delivers for Skelton team in Imperial Cup

Langer Dan kicked off what could be an excellent few days for Dan and Harry Skelton when cruising to victory in the Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown.

Once again Dan Skelton proved he is among the best at targeting the big prizes, while his brother Harry is putting up a stern challenge in his quest to be champion jockey.

With the likes of Roksana, Third Time Lucki, Shan Blue, Nube Negra and Allmankind heading to Cheltenham next week, the Skeltons could have the week of their lives and now Langer Dan is as low as 8-1 with Paddy Power for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – the closing event of the Festival.

His supporters in this race had a brief moment of worry coming out of the back straight when Harry Skelton was short of room and got shuffled to the back of the pack.

However, in a matter of strides he was soon back on the bridle and breezed around the field to challenge Miss Heritage.

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By then ante-post favourite Natural History had cried enough and Langer Dan (5-1) breezed to victory by four lengths from Miss Heritage, with Mack The Man back in third.

Dan Skelton said: “I have got so much admiration for this little horse. Colm (Donlon, owner) bought him last year, as he always likes to have a juvenile.

“When he started this year, we thought he’d be one of those horses who would just have a juvenile season. But he is a credit to himself. He’s so tough and we took the pressure off him after the autumn and he has thrived.

“He’s tiny, but he has a great attitude and he’s all heart. He won a Listed race as a juvenile and we bought him as a foal and I said to Colm one day when he was trotting round as a three-year-old, ‘I think we should give you your money back, because he hasn’t grown’.

“But it is not the size of the horse, it is the size of the heart and he is all heart.

“His chances of getting in the Martin Pipe are nil, but if that nil becomes something, he’ll run. And whatever price he is, then he is what he is and his chance will be what it will be. It is hard to turn around quickly at this time of year, but given the prestige, he’ll have to have a go if he gets in.”

He added: “He is a magic little horse and he deserved it. He is tough competitor. He ran really well in last year’s Boodles and actually, funnily enough, that is our first winner over hurdles at Sandown.

“I’ve never had a winner on the hurdles track. He made a good jump two out after he had been shuffled back, which put him in a good position. He doesn’t like to be produced too soon and he needs to do as little as possible in the race. If you put him in the race too soon, he does too much.

“Maybe it is not the strongest Imperial Cup, but you can only beat what is put in front of you.

“I would like to think we will go to Aintree, but he is a horse who thrives with not having pressure. He had all that pressure last year and handled it well, but this year we have taken that pressure off him and he’s thrived because of it.

“Let’s see what the ground is like. He is only five and hopefully we have plenty of time with this horse.

“If everything is OK, we’ll run on Friday with him and we’ll consider Aintree. But at the end of the day he has won a big race today, so we will celebrate that.”

Dan Skelton confirms Mares’ Hurdle target for Roksana

Dan Skelton has announced Roksana will try to regain her title in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle next week at Cheltenham.

The nine-year-old also had the option of running in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and when Philip Hobbs revealed on Friday that Thyme Hill had met with a setback and would miss the race, her price began to contract for the longer contest.

However, the in-form Skelton has opted to stick to his original plan with Roksana and she will take on her own sex, including the impressive Concertista, on Tuesday.

Skelton explained: “I always said she was going to the Mares’ until she wasn’t and at the 11th hour yesterday with Philip Hobbs’ horse not being able to run, I just needed a little bit longer to talk to the owners and talk to Harry (Skelton) to confirm that we were still doing the right thing by going to the Mares’.

“I confirmed her for the Stayers’ just to give us a little bit more time. My thoughts at the time were ‘nothing has changed’.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make – it was actually a hard decision, but we made it two weeks ago. We just wanted to satisfy ourselves that we were doing the right thing.”

Roksana won the race two years ago when taking advantage of a fall at the last by Benie Des Dieux.

Paisley Park tops 18 in contention for Stayers’ Hurdle prize

Paisley Park is the star name among 18 confirmations for the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Following the defection of market rival Thyme Hill on Friday morning, Emma Lavelle’s stable star will be a hot favourite to regain his crown in Thursday’s Grade One showpiece, having suffered a heart problem when bidding for back-to-back victories 12 months ago.

The nine-year-old has bounced back to form this season – filling the runner-up spot behind Thyme Hill in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November, before reversing the form in a thrilling renewal of the Long Walk at Ascot the following month.

Dan Skelton has confirmed Roksana off the back of the news Thyme Hill will miss out due to injury, but is still favouring an outing in Tuesday’s Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle – a race she won in 2019.

Roksana retains a Stayers' Hurdle entry
Roksana retains a Stayers’ Hurdle entry (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Skelton said: “I wasn’t going to confirm her for the Stayers’, but when I saw the news (about Thyme Hill) I did, because it just gives us a little bit more time to consider and look at forecasts etc.

“I don’t think Thyme Hill coming out is going to make any difference, but at the same time, I have confirmed her to give ourselves the option.

“We are still leaning towards the Mares’ Hurdle as things stand.”

Denise Foster – who has taken over the licence from the suspended Gordon Elliott – has a trio of interesting contenders, with dual Pertemps Final winner Sire Du Berlais joined by The Storyteller and Fury Road.

Other potential challengers from Ireland include Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter and the Willie Mullins-trained Bacardys.

Last year’s shock Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar is in the mix again for Rebecca Curtis, while Kim Bailey looks set to saddle both Vinndication and Younevercall.

Beacon Edge, Diol Ker, If The Cap Fits, Lil Rockerfeller, Main Fact, Reserve Tank, Sam Spinner and Heaven Help Us are the other hopefuls.